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Baseball: Weathering the storm

Lorenzo Reyes | Friday, April 25, 2008

Now that No. 24 Notre Dame has backed up its first week as a ranked team with a pair of non-conference wins, it’s time for the squad to take its recent consistent play to the Big East.

But things aren’t going to get any easier for the Irish.

In the path lies St. John’s, who is second in league play, trailing the Irish by a game.

Notre Dame (27-10-1, 12-3) will host the Red Storm (29-9, 11-4) at Frank Eck Stadium for a three-game series that begins tonight at 6:05, and wraps up with a Sunday afternoon contest at 12:05.

Earlier in the week, freshman starting pair Brian Dupra and Ryan Sharpley pitched in solid back-to-back performances over Chicago State and IPFW respectively.

This weekend, the Irish turn to their league pitching rotation composed of junior David Phelps, senior Wade Korpi and sophomore Eric Maust to try to maintain their momentum and remain atop the conference standings.

Maust enters the weekend with the team-high in wins and the lowest ERA of the starting pitchers. He boasts a 4-1 record to go with his 2.66 ERA, just .20 points better than Sharpley’s mark. The sophomore has been successful at keeping his pitches in the strike zone, not allowing many free passes and interchanging between his fastball, changeup and breaking ball.

Maust will likely take the mound for the series finale on Sunday.

Phelps will probably lead off the three-game set Friday, looking to improve on his 5-3 career-record against the Red Storm. He also takes his 3.38 ERA to the mound to go with his team-high 57 strikeouts this season.

The junior has only allowed one homerun all season, and is second in the squad among the starters for opponent’s batting average at .250.

Korpi comes into the second contest with five wins as well, to go with a pair of losses. His 4.29 ERA has steadily declined after a pair of shaky starts earlier in the season. One area Korpi has to improve in is his control. The senior has allowed 27 walks this year – 15 more than the next closest pitcher.

For Notre Dame to pick up some key victories this weekend, the Irish bats will have to keep doing what they’ve been up to in the past month – manufacturing runs on hits and small ball.

Sophomore centerfielder A.J. Pollock leads the team with his .397 batting average, 60 hits, 33 RBIs and 18 stolen bases on 19 attempts. Hitting from the three-hole, Pollock has benefited from base runners in the lineup before him setting him up with chances to drive in runs.

One of these players has been sophomore designated hitter David Mills, who has found his groove from the two spot, picking up Big East Player of the Week honors last week. Mills is second on the squad with a .376 average, and sports an on-base percentage of .408.

The sophomore also has been a team player this season, picking up 15 sacrifice bunts thus far, allowing runners to advance and score runs.

The power in the lineup comes from junior first baseman Evan Sharpley, Ryan’s brother. The junior has a team-high nine homeruns and is third on the club with 30 RBIs, to go with his .351 average.

After the St. John’s series, the Irish will return to action against Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.